My wife and I have just gone to an 80th birthday party. It was for a man we knew indirectly thorough our daughter and her husband—Karol and Mike. We had met the man and his wife—I’ll call them Mr and Mrs Joseph Askar (for that is their names)—a few years earlier at their ranch when Mike and Karol took us there. The Askars, now retired, are originally from Lebanon and have had a very successful business and ministry career for many years.
I can hardly remember either my own or my wife’s 80th birthday, but I knew this one was going to be special. It was held at the “Baylor Club” on the fourth floor of McLane stadium, the citadel of sports worship in Waco. We had driven by the football fortress many times and had once been inside for a more traditional worship service when a large number of churches and denominations combined for a rally. In that instance the “touchdowns” were individuals who made professions of faith and the “players” were singers, choirs and a well-known preacher.
We were told that this party was RSVP and that the dress code was semi-formal, so I had to scrounge around and find a tie, something I knew went around my neck, but hadn’t been there for years. It was raining so I wore my Aussie slouch hat (made in Sri Lanka), but discreetly left it behind a pillar on the first floor before the four of us took the elevator to the Baylor Club room. (This, being a Baylor Baptist building, gave ample protection for the hat.)
The Baylor Club room is elaborate, with enormous posters above and around us, each commemorating some significant football event. There were tables set up for around 150 people. To the west we could look out of massive windows to see the brightly colored bridge near the stadium and the clouds in the distance. We were close to Interstate 35 and I kept watching the traffic for an accident, but this was an off-day and none occurred. To the east, through special doors, best known to club members, was the holy of holies for football, the elaborate and expensive rows of leather chairs in small, separate rooms that looked down on the football field. Large windows could be opened to allow the aroma of football to permeate the lofty private rooms of the football fanatics—rich ones of course.
We had entered the Club room from the doors near the elevators and were immediately offered finger food of all sorts. These are called hors d’oeuvres by those who can pronounce French, but are more often referred to as appetizers by the middle class. In the mountains of Pennsylvania we would have called the finger food “stuff.” Mr Askar is from Lebanon so I didn’t expect German Allondigas meatballs or Bavaria Blue Cheese Mousse, but there might have been some on one of the trays. All the finger-licking stuff was on small trays on tables around the room which held various bite-size of bits of cheese, all creamy, milky, gooey and salty. There were spreads, dips, balls and sockets; they were things yellow, white, red, blue and green. There were all kinds of other “appetizers” as well: carrots, of course broccoli, cucumber, radish, and other lesser known vegetables. And this was just the beginning—we eventually found a seat at a round table that had plates, ice tea (this is Texas), ice water, pieces of cutlery, and real cloth napkins. I was puzzled by all the forks, knives and spoons—was someone else assigned to eat with me? In the center of the table were decorative sets of silk flowers. I grew up on a farm so I could sense they not for eating, but to be admired.
It was all enough to make me forget about Mr Askar and his birthday. But we were reminded of him by virtue of 6 or more large TV screens on walls with images of him and his family in every phase of their lives. There was no sound because a tall blond woman with a guitar and cowboy boots (and dress) was singing something that sounded like a song. There was a mike, so she was loud enough, but I couldn’t pick up a word except “love” here and there.
There was an MC, a man who knew Mr Askar well since the two had immigrated to the US from Lebanon about the same time. He made a couple of Reader’s Digest jokes and then gave us instructions about the meal. We were to form a line in the pasta dish section, or in the meat and vegetables area. We chose meat and a man carved slices of beef from what must have been the hindquarters of the biggest bull in Texas. We filled our plates and went back to our table where 10 of us were now seated.
The program was in English and Arabic. Fortunately, I was seated next to Dr Saadi from Syria, a professor at Baylor and family friend who teaches Arabic, so I could ask him what the MC was saying or singing. A fair number of the guests could respond in Arabic, but no terrorists were present, so genuine American Texans seemed at ease. Near the end of the program, which consisted of songs and sayings about the honored guest, there was a “open mike.” This was a time of short stories and hilarity about Mr Askar, which went on a long time because it included comments by a relative from Australia, family members, friends and some of the 100 grandchildren who were present. They had the picture of their grandfather on their t-shirts.
At the close, Mr Askar thanked everyone present (in Arabic) and gave a short evangelistic message (in Arabic) and we were dismissed. It had been a grand occasion, even if I sneaked off occasionally to one of the club member’s rooms to see if Baylor was winning their football game. It was played in San Antonio but we could watch it on a big screen.
Guests were invited to sign their names in a registry and keep the ballpoint pen, which had Mr Askar’s name in English and Arabic on it, as well as to pick up a bar of special smelling soap that someone had brought from Jordan. It was a fitting gift, I thought, as I washed my hands of the program and night at the Baylor Club.
McLane Football Stadium
September 8, 2018